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102nd Giro di Lombardia - HC
Italy, October 18, 2008
By Gregor Brown
The 102nd Giro di Lombardia promises to send the season out with a fierce battle this Saturday in Italy. Olympic Champion Samuel Sánchez and 2007 winner Damiano Cunego are some of the favourites who will fight through autumn's falling leaves to arrive on Como's lakefront victorious.
Many riders, like Australia's Cadel Evans, mark this monument down on their list of races they would like to win. It's the historical importance of the race – one of only five Monuments in the sport – and the parcours – the famed climb of Madonna di Ghisallo – that is lending it its myth.
The race first came about as the Milano-Milano in 1905 and took on its Giro di Lombardia name in 1907. Its 'Monument' status took hold with the addition of the Madonna del Ghisallo in the 1920s. First unpaved, the climb is the race's highlight at 8.6 kilometres long and 511 metres in elevation gain. The climb hits percentages of 14% near Mulini del Perlo and another sharp kick before reaching the Sanctuary dedicated to cyclists.
The race has finished along the lakefront in Como since 2004, where it finished in the 1960s and 1970s. Back then the race started in Milano, but now heads off from Varese. Between 2004 and 2006 the race started in neighbouring Switzerland, in Mendrisio.
The race travels towards Como after leaving Varese, where Alessandro Ballan recently won the World Championships. It passes through Como and heads up the western shores of the lake for the first climb – Intelvi. The next obstacle comes on the eastern shores of Lago di Como with the climb out Bellano and into Valsassina.
The race kicks into top gear with the descent into Lecco and the snake-like path back along the lake towards Bellagio. The riders leave the homes of the rich and famous and climb towards the cyclists' sanctuary – the Madonna del Ghisallo. It tops out with 44.3 kilometres remaining.
Like last year – in a move that included Cunego and Evans – an escape will likely form and see a battle amongst cycling's elite on the roads back to Como. There are two final smaller climbs – Civiglio at 15.7 kilometres to go and San Fermo della Battaglia at 5.7 kilometres – before the finish on Como's Lungo Lario Trento for a total of 242 kilometres.
Whoever tops the day will have his name etched in the annals alongside the likes of Fausto Coppi (five-time winner), Felice Gimondi, Tom Simpson, Eddy Merckx, Roger de Vlaeminck and Bernard Hinault. Paolo Bettini won back to back in 2005 and 2006. Bettini, recently retired, won't be racing this year, but current World Champion Ballan will be, along with his Lampre teammate Cunego, winner in 2004 and 2007.
Spaniard's Sánchez of Team Euskaltel-Euskadi and Joaquím Rodríguez Caisse d'Epargne will find the parcours to their liking. Silence-Lotto's Evans will be out for a fight on roads that pass his doorstep. Other Italians in with a chance are Barloworld's Enrico Gasparotto and Quick Step's Giovanni Visconti. Russia's Alexandr Kolobnev of Team CSC-Saxo Bank and USA's of Team Chris Horner and Tom Danielson of Team Garmin Chipotle - H30 are other names to watch.